Day 83: A Voice from Beyond…

“My Dad gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person.  He believed in me.”

-Jim Valvano

  To move forward, I have to go back 75 years.

I have to admit, I have procrastinated with this Quest… not because I wanted to, but because it is the start of what this Quest is really about… Courage.   In the last 80 adventures, I have taken time to explore my life by doing things I have never done and felt compelled to experience.  All of these adventures, and there will be more, have allowed me to strengthen my spirit and find my voice. Yet, the real work with this quest is just beginning.

It was a Friday afternoon and it was time to do what I had been dreading for months. I went to my safe and slid the key inside the lock and ever-so-carefully turned the key.   With a heavy sigh, I opened the safe.  I retrieved the bag of tapes and the small tape recorder that was positioned in the middle of the space. I sat for just a moment and looked at the small cassette tapes labeled, “George”.  My brow was furrowed and I felt frozen with a bit of fear.  I closed my eyes and felt a shiver as I could almost hear my Dad’s voice emanating from these tiny little cases.  My Dad passed away not long ago and yet these tapes were made about 10 years ago. The tapes were made to record his life.  Until his words were recorded, my Dad revealed very few details about his life growing up.  His intention was to protect his family from the harsh stories he didn’t think his children should know about.  Through a little convincing, some compassion and a serious curiosity, my Dad agreed to reveal his story with the understanding that it would remain secret until his passing.

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The tapes were made and placed in storage for safe keeping. I gently held the tapes now as if they were some priceless piece of gold that I refused to part with.  I closed the safe and placed the key in its rightful place. I had the urge to take these tapes to a quiet place, one that would calm my emotion and allow me to feel however I would when I pressed that “play” button.  It was chilly at the lake, so I wore my jeans, a long-sleeve top and my black sweater.

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I left my hair down because my Dad would remark every now and again how pretty he thought I was when I didn’t have it tied up.  I packed a snack and a drink in my bag and I slipped on my flip-flops and made my way to my self-described outdoor office at the lake.

 

As often as I spend time at this blue gem in the mountains, this was the first time that I felt conflicted about going. I did not like the task at hand.  I wasn’t sure what my reaction would be hearing his voice. I missed him so much and this only made my emotions feel stronger.  As I drove up the mountain, I could see the sun peek through the golden aspen leaves. I was gifted with a rich and warm view, almost as if it were meant to take the worry away to focus on something simply stunning.

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Before I knew it, I had made my way to Carnelian Bay. In the distance sat a picnic table that I have declared to be my point of inspiration.  It sits nestled in a grove of aspen trees protected from the wind with a view that is always remarkable.

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The trees along the trail to the beach welcomed me with their warm glow.  I walked cautiously, methodically, and distracted with hesitation as I feared what was to come.  As I walked, the view of the water seemed to soothe my spirit as if to say, “No worries, this is a journey many never get to do…”  I thought about those words that my heart spoke… and yes, I get the opportunity to listen to my Dad speak again.  It may be difficult, but it is a privilege and one he chose only me to have.  I sat at the picnic table and fought back the tears of loss.  The breeze picked up and I could hear the last of the aspen leaves as they quaked in the wind.  I reached for the bag with the tapes and recorder and set them on the table as if to hope that they would play themselves.  I questioned myself, “Am I really ready to hear his voice again?  Can I handle this challenge?”  Deep sigh…  I suddenly felt this overwhelming feeling of not being alone.  I felt as if there was someone next to me perhaps even encouraging me…  I found myself in a trance-like state reaching for the first tape and robotically placing it in the tape recorder.  I hesitated for only a moment, afraid of what I would hear, and then carefully and with only one finger, I pressed “play”.

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Within just 20 seconds of pressing play, I felt a flood of emotion that I had a hard time fighting back…. I could hear the TV in the background as my Dad always had news channels playing… I could hear him joke as he so often did… I could hear that unmistakable voice with a thick Serbian accent, but his English as articulate as it could be…. I was confused as it felt as if he was sitting at the table with me and we were speaking to each other again.  I stopped the tape and had to reconcile all these emotions.

 

tp23He knew when these tapes were made that this day would eventually arrive. When these tapes were made, I didn’t think this day would ever come.  What juxtaposition.    This is the harsh lesson that our mortality teaches us, I suppose.  I kept thinking, “It doesn’t feel like he is gone… I feel like he is always with me… Why do I possess such sadness?”  And as if the wind had changed direction, the answer came to me in a flurry… He is with me on this Quest. It’s as much about him as it is about me.  And the realization that he might be gone as soon as this Quest ends had me suddenly feeling a real sense of loss and reality.  I had closure with my Dad before his passing, but I never did grieve like most would.  I know what it is to grieve; I did so when my Grandmother passed.  This time, I didn’t… I haven’t… I can’t… He is all around me… He is so much a part of this journey.  I am not sure if that is good or bad, but I know that there are moments I can’t rationally explain.  I have been taken down roads and had experiences that could not have happened by coincidence.

Before my Dad passed he knew I had dreams and goals to fulfill… He also knew that I needed to grow into the person he knew I was capable of being.  He knew that I derived my strength from him.  He knew there would come a day when this shy and sheltered girl would have to face her fears, find her strength and say and do what needed to be done.  He knew that his story and legacy would be the bridge to letting go and helping others.  He was a modest man and knew the only way this mission would be accomplished is with his spirit no longer here.

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I wiped away the tears and straightened my back, and thought about what it means to share his story. I drew strength, direction and courage from his story. I have been gifted with the responsibility to share his story with the world.  I am not a master with words.  I am not an acclaimed author.  I am not a motivational speaker.  I am not a religious leader.  I am not a writer for a magazine or newspaper.  No, I am a shy and sheltered girl who was trusted to hear the words of a brave man. I was meant to learn from the lessons he endured, and share his message so that we can all remember what it means to do and say what needs to be done.  Now, more than ever, we all need to learn from courageous stories like my Dad’s for the sake of everything that is just and right.

After reminding myself of the mission, a smile emerged just like when I was little girl and my Dad would try to make me smile when I was having a bad day… I shook my head because it just seemed so apropos!   I then took a deep breath.  With a sense of confidence and purpose, I reached with some excitement for the tape recorder.  Yes, this time I was eager to hear my Dad’s voice as if it were the only thing I needed to keep me smiling…

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There on the shores of Lake Tahoe, one sunny Friday afternoon, at a picnic bench shared with someone I couldn’t see but knew was there, this girl listened to the words her father once spoke. The words and the sound were as if they were recorded yesterday.  The glow of the aspens began to dim when the first tape had been finished.  The sun had disappeared behind the new clouds that had emerged and the winds had begun to pick up. The warmth of the day had faded and it was clear that the first part of this quest was done.  Two more tapes remained to be listened to and still some research needed to be done.  With that, I packed up my bag and as I walked away, I looked at the picnic bench as if I felt compelled to say “Goodbye”.  I lowered my head and made my way back up the path from the beach to my car.

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As I drove away and made my way down the mountain, my Dad’s voice was ever-present in my mind as if there was more that needed to be said. I openly said just in case he could hear, “I miss you Dad… more now than ever before.” And just as the last words escaped my soft lips, I saw an overlook quickly approaching and felt once again compelled to stop.

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There are usually many cars at this spot and I was shocked to see that I was the only one.  I grabbed my camera and stepped out of the car and walked to the cliff’s edge.  I looked out over Lake Tahoe, and I stood in awe at the view I was given.  The clouds were slowly dancing as if performing a delicate ballet. The sun began to peek through the clouds and highlight the north end of the lake where I had just left.  I clicked away to capture this heavenly ray, and then just stood to watch as the sun took cover in the clouds once again.  I waited to see if it would re-emerge. I quickly realized that I saw what needed to be seen.  I turned around and three cars just then pulled in… I softly whispered, “Thank you for that.”

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As I stepped into the car, I suddenly remembered a quote I had just come across, “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in; their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” –Elisabeth Kubler-Ross 

It was in that moment that I suddenly remembered that my Dad may be gone from this earth, but I am still here with a purpose, mission and responsibility to share an important message. If it hadn’t been for his passing, this girl would still be this shy and sheltered spirit… No, I have made the choice to accept this challenge.  With “All of my” strength, I will use the light from within to help others find their way to say and do what needs to be done, just as my Dad had chosen to do at the tender age of just 14.

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Having had the courage to listen to my Dad speak from beyond this world, appreciating the precious gift he left behind and now understanding that I will no longer have him to lend his power to help this girl accomplish her goals…. It is understood and accepted that I will use my own strength to share this important message.

Feeling empowered, stronger, and humbled that this is what I was chosen to do… I will do my best to carefully construct the words that tell your amazing story and message, Dad! Looking to the past and wondering what tomorrow will bring…

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